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Rotary Thought Spot: Why We Do What We Do

February 16th, 2010

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.” 

— Abraham Maslow

 “Begin with the end in mind.”

Stephen Covey

What inspires you to do the things you do in Rotary?

People sometimes ask me why I write Thought Spots.  The truth is that Mrs. Jalbert has everything and nothing to do with them.

She was my fifth grade teacher and assigned the first creative writing task can I remember.  Mrs. Jalbert was a kindly, no-nonsense teacher in practical cardigans and sensible shoes and short, easy-care hair.  I think she was forty-something, although when you’re nine everyone older than high school seems middle-aged.

Mrs. Jalbert was a by-the-book teacher; our parents could be certain that the content of our text books would be absolutely covered and thoroughly tested.  She grounded us in the basics. That’s what she graded. Which for fifth grade composition is not a bad thing, since writing is a lot easier if you know something about punctuation and parts of speech and the meaning of words.

One bleary Friday afternoon in February Mrs. Jalbert patiently walked us through the mechanics of paragraph writing and sent us home with a paragraph to finish. It was an assignment straight from our composition book, which gave us the last sentence of a paragraph.  We were supposed to write the topic sentence and middle sentences and end our paragraph with the assigned sentence about how pleasant the woods are in May. 

Then she opened the door to the unknown.  “Follow the rules, and make it interesting,” she warned as we packed up our books.  Uh-oh.

My classmate Mark and I trudged home in our bulky winter coats, kicking at street-grimy snow banks taller than we were and trying to figure out what to do about this homework. “At least you can write,” Mark groused. Mark was a numbers whiz who could whip through the math homework in half the time it took me to finish.  Sure, I knew lots of words but this was different.  Extracting a rule-following, interesting paragraph from either of our heads would take most of the weekend.

That evening I tried to forget about the woods in May.  But all through the Friday night movie they gyrated in my head, surrounded by big blank spaces of unwritten sentences. They kept me awake and silently stared me down at breakfast the next morning.

By Saturday afternoon I still faced a blank sheet of paper and needed a diversion.  I waited until my older brother left to go skating and sneaked into his bedroom. He was a Boy Scout and I read his Boy’s Life magazines when he wasn’t around.  I was fascinated by the mail order advertisements for things I never saw in girls’ magazines, like sea monkeys and X-ray glasses and pepper-flavored chewing gum.

I found the latest issue and stretched out on one of the bunk beds when I noticed that the patterned bedroom walls were, well, kind of woodsy.  And that a thin winter sun was filtering through the window blinds. 

I remembered that I’d bought a pine sachet as a souvenir last summer during our family vacation to New Hampshire and that my sister had a bottle of wildflower cologne.  I collected my scented props and opened the blinds.  I thought back to summer vacation in New Hampshire and felt dry pine needles cushioning my feet as I walked down to the lake.  I heard Towhee sparrows warbling “Drink Your Teeeee” and the blank spaces in my mind were suddenly swirling with ideas.

My paragraph came back from Mrs. Jalbert with an “A” and exclamation points, which earned it a place of honor on the refrigerator door.  I was proud of the praise but there was something else I’d learned from Mrs. Jalbert’s assignment.  I didn’t have to wait to be inspired to do my work.  I could find the inspiration within myself.

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us know why we do what we do as Rotarians.   Like eradicating a deadly disease like polio.  Or growing Rotary by bringing a guest to a club meeting.  Or helping to clean up after a club event.

We may not always have the precise words to express our motivation.  Sometimes it’s the result of an experience – something we see that stamps its image onto our memory and our hearts. Or an exchange with another person that deepens from like-mindedness to an emotional bond.

Ultimately, like Mrs. Jalbert or a homework assignment, other people and things have everything and nothing to do with it. The impetus may come from someone or something else.  But the best source of inspiration for our work in Rotary is within ourselves.

So take a look inside yourself. 

What inspires you to do the things you do in Rotary?

Ways to Connect with the Inspiration Within Ourselves

Begin with the End in Mind

In Stephen Covey’s personal development classic, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, habit number two is beginning with the end in mind.  Even the smallest tasks contribute to big outcomes. Being assigned to the clean up crew after a club fundraiser may seem unimportant.  But without it, fundraiser facilities aren’t available, which means the fundraiser can’t happen.  Which means money for Rotary humanitarian projects doesn’t get raised.  Start thinking about the outcomes of every task as big and important – whether you’re doing them or assigning them – because they are. 

Follow the Rules and Make It Interesting

We all need a framework to organize our work – a composition assignment, our club by laws, the RI Manual of Procedure.  In order for our work to be meaningful , it needs to be interesting to us and to others. The next time you, a committee, or your club is considering a project or activity, consider asking the following questions:

What is our required framework?

What options do we have within that framework to:

  • Surprise and engage members of the club?
  • Create interest and awareness in our community?
  • Achieve beneficial outcomes for our beneficiaries?